Minister warns of more fish deaths this week as temperatures rise in NSW west | Australia news
More fish kill events are expected in New South Wales’s inland rivers in coming days as temperatures rise in the state’s west followed by a forecast cool period, the agriculture minister, David Littleproud, has warned.
The federal government has announced a $5m recovery package for the Murray-Darling after up to 1m fish died at Menindee, including 70-year-old Murray cod. The money will be used for cleanups and for fish restocking.
Littleproud has called a meeting of state and federal water ministers and the commonwealth environmental water manager to investigate what can be done to alleviate the crisis facing the river.
The events have raised serious questions about management of the river, after locals repeatedly warned that the low flows through the lower Darling were risking the health of the river and could have major environmental impacts.
They have accused the NSW government of deliberately draining the Menindee Lakes over the past two years and allowing greater extractions by irrigators upstream, leaving a 500km stretch of the river without regular flows.
Without regular flows, the warmer weather causes blue-green algal blooms, which are then killed by cooler weather, causing the oxygen to be removed from the water, killing fish.
The NSW government and the federal government have sought to portray the events as due solely to the drought.
“It is a devastating ecological event,” Scott Morrison said on Monday. “For those who live throughout the region, the sheer visual image of this is upsetting,” the prime minister said.
He said Littleproud would be convening the environmental water holders and the managers of the water, who work together under the bipartisan Murray-Darling Basin plan, to get to the bottom of the problems.
“There is $5m we want to put through that strategy to look at the native fish recovery plan. He is taking action with those that are responsible for it,” Morrison said.
But he also sheeted the blame home to the NSW government and its regional water minister, Niall Blair, whom he pointedly said “had responsibility for the water flows”.
“There is a drought and this is one of the consequences of that. My focus on drought has not shifted one inch,” Morrison said.
Blair described the Menindee fish kill as “unprecedented”, but has also warned that more will occur.
“It was caused by a perfect storm of events – severely low water flow, followed by algal blooms and then a sudden drop in temperature,” he said.
But the fish kill will also focus attention on the performance of the Murray-Darling Basin authority and whether the basin plan is working.
In June 2018 the authority said a key priority was to maintain flows between the northern and southern basin to maintain the basin’s health.
“The Barwon–Darling river system needs water to flow again so native fish can reach their natural habitat to feed, grow and breed,” it said.
The exact opposite has happened. Instead, water has ceased to flow several times in the lower Darling in the past two years, causing algal blooms.
A royal commission in South Australia has been inquiring into how the overall allocation of water for the environment was set. Virtually all the scientists who gave evidence said the figure of 2750GL was a political compromise, and a bare minimum or inadequate to deliver a healthy river.
There are now moves to achieve that target, not by removing water from agriculture but by implementing various projects to save water.
The basin plan also does not take account of climate change.